lifeline-for-cemeteryWonthaggi residents Jim McCulley (right) and Les Larke expressed their dissatisfaction at the state of Wonthaggi Cemetery back in November.

WONTHAGGI’S dishevelled public cemetery could soon receive a spruce-up, with Bass Coast Mayor Neil Rankine declaring he is “not impressed” with the current state of the Cameron Street site.

Following a cover story printed in the Sentinel-Times late last year (‘Dying shame’, November 19), Cr Rankine said he met with a group, including local residents Jim and Marg McCulley, who have maintained the grounds as best they could as volunteers for the past 20 years, and Wonthaggi Cemetery Trust secretary Jenny Churchill, to compile a list of issues requiring attention.
The need for drainage upgrades, the sealing of driveways, a storage shed, shelter and more appropriate seating for mourners were just some of the immediate issues raised.
The council is responsible for maintenance at both the Wonthaggi and San Remo cemeteries, with the councillors acting as trustees.
But while San Remo has its own dedicated friends group, made up of volunteers who meet regularly to maintain the site, Wonthaggi has no such collective.
“The council has attempted in the past to form a community group to care for the community, either as a Trust or in conjunction with council as a friends group,” Cr Rankine explained.
“We advertised expressions of interest but were unable to get a group interested.
“We’re very fortunate to have a couple (the McCulleys) that do a power of work there beautifying the grounds, and have for years, but it’s a huge job and beyond one couple.”
Cr Rankine said he applauds the efforts of Wonthaggi resident Les Larke – a frequent visitor to the local cemetery who is spearheading the campaign to make improvements at the site.
“I’m very pleased that Mr Larke is showing an interest in the cemetery,” Cr Rankine said.
“I applaud his efforts to get out and engage other individuals and groups to drum up support for what really is much more than just a cemetery.
“It’s also a park, the holding place for a lot of Wonthaggi’s history and stories, and a place for contemplation.
“I’ve offered with Mr Larke to encourage clubs and groups who might have an interest in preservation or improvements at the cemetery, so if any readers are interested, we need to make this a joint council and community project.”
Cr Rankine said the council is organising for works on the blue stone fence, road drains, ongoing pothole works and tree maintenance.
“But we need a plan,” he said.
“To begin this process we are currently undertaking a service review and risk assessment for the cemetery and I’ve organised a briefing for my fellow councillors in February when the results will be available.
“We have also applied for funding from the Department of Health, who are responsible for cemeteries, to do a drainage and access plan.
“This will build a case to apply for grants and ask for community contributions for major works to be done.
“Unfortunately, like every service the council delivers, we have to prioritise by available funds and community desire, so get on board and let’s make this happen!”
Mr Larke said he is pleased the council has taken note the cemetery is in urgent need of restoration.
“My hope is that Bass Coast Shire Council save and preserve the cemetery’s cultural, religious and heritage values, and provide a safe and healthy environment for all (including our most vulnerable citizens), and do not turn their backs on what is a very difficult and complex, economic and social reform including resolution of occupational, health and safety and disability issues,” he said.
“We care about these issues, and my expectation is that council/councillors’ approach and solution is not politically motivated and determined by individual priorities and views, (or the) Wonthaggi community will lose out in the process.”